Sharks flank Jean Luc du Preez during training at Jonsson Kings Park in Durban. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

DURBAN – The Sharks report for duty at Jonsson Kings Park today after a week’s holiday to find themselves fourth on the SA Conference after five rounds of Super Rugby and facing a must-win home match against the Rebels on Saturday (5.15pm).

The Sharks had topped the log for three rounds and had looked like the SA team to beat until they came off second best in a fortnight of derbies against the Stormers and the Bulls.

Both of those teams have leapfrogged the Sharks on the log, as have the other South African team, the Lions, who stunned the Rebels at Ellis Park at the weekend after a miracle comeback from 33-5 down to snatch a 36-33 win with the last action of the match, a high-pressure conversion by substitute flyhalf Gianni Lombard.

The Lions have played five matches for their 13 log points while the table-topping Bulls (on points-difference) and Stormers (also 13 points) have played four matches. The Sharks, on 11 points, have also played four games while the fifth team on the SA Conference, the Jaguares, are at the bottom of the table with just nine points from their five matches.

The Sharks have now lost two in a row and it is desperation stakes for them this week. A basic premise of Super Rugby is that success depends on winning your home games and then picking up as many points as you can on the road. So the Sharks have to nail the Rebels on Saturday, especially as they are in for a tough return match with the in-form Bulls next Saturday, also in Durban.

The ruthless manner in which the Bulls dispatched the Sharks at Loftus Versfeld suggests the Sharks will need every inch of home ground advantage they can muster.

In that match, the Bulls pack got on top from the outset to allow red- hot flyhalf Handre Pollard to dominate affairs. The Sharks’ backline in turn got static ball and were rendered toothless.

In short, this week’s preparations at the Shark Tank are going to have a major focus on restoring the fire to the tight five, especially.

The Sharks will have noted how dangerous the Rebels can be with quality possession. They remain top of the Australian Conference despite the last-gasp loss to the Lions, with three wins from four games.

They have brilliant playmakers in Wallabies Quade Cooper and Will Genia and have raw speed out wide, plus a combative pack spearheaded by Wallaby lock Adam Coleman.


The Mercury

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